Noirvember 2016, Episode 16: A Double Life (1947)


A Double Life (1947) George Cukor (2x)
Republic DVD – library


Everyone remembers A Double Life for Ronald Colman’s Oscar-winning performance as stage actor Anthony John, but many tend to forget the film’s other fine performances by Shelley Winters, Signe Hasso and Edmond O’Brien. They also often forget that the script was penned by husband and wife Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon and further forget that the score was written by the great Miklós Rózsa. As much as it may be remembered as such, it’s not a one-man show.

Anthony John is a superstar, not on the level of a rock star (in a time before there were rock stars), but he’s easily recognized on the street, so much so that he often ducks into buildings to avoid fans. Yes, he’s a diva, but he’s an amazing actor; even his ex-wife (Signe Hasso, below) recognizes this and agrees to star opposite him in an upcoming production of Shakespeare’s Othello. Tony’s biggest problem is that he loses himself in his roles. In lighter comedic plays like his current success A Gentleman’s Gentlemen, there’s no problem, but when he takes on a drama, particularly a tragedy… Look out.


The darkness in Tony comes out in the role of Othello, so much so that he finds himself in situations he can’t quite control. One such situation involves his relationship with a young waitress named Pat (Shelley Winters, below) who revels in the attention of this cultured, articulate man, completely unaware of either his fame or what his obsession with character could lead him to do in her presence.


The noir elements come mainly from Tony’s inability to separate himself from the roles he plays onstage, making us think of the oft-used device of a film noir hero (usually a WWII veteran) who has amnesia. Here, the identity confusion results from a variety of complex issues, none of which are explored to death as they might be in lesser films. The movie is very smart in this respect, allowing the viewer to do a little thinking, which is never a bad thing. My good friend B Noir Detour has written posts on A Double Life for the Backstage Blogathon and the 1947 Blogathon, both of which are excellent (with spoiler warnings clearly marked).


In some ways A Double Life has not aged well, but the performances and story are still quite good. I originally saw this film at least 30 years ago on TV and now understand why I thought much of the film was almost drowning in black: it was. So much of Milton Krasner’s cinematography is nearly pitch black, perhaps too much so in some scenes, at least on TV from three decades ago. Although the DVD is much clearer, I’d love to revisit this film in a restored version on the big screen or at least see the Olive Films Blu-ray. If you’ve seen the film in either format, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

(Plus the film includes my favorite supporting actor Whit Bissell as a doctor!)


Photos: IMP Awards, Movie Titles Stills Collection, Mubi, Rotten Tomatoes, DVD Talk, B Noir Detour 


5 thoughts on “Noirvember 2016, Episode 16: A Double Life (1947)

  1. Pingback: Rewatches in 2016 | Journeys in Darkness and Light

  2. Pingback: Noirvember 2016: 30 Films in 30 Days | Journeys in Darkness and Light

  3. Pingback: Noirvember 2016: Recapping Week Three | Journeys in Darkness and Light

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